This is a tree in my neighborhood in Maine. It’s a cliché but a true one that most of us feel lucky to live in New England this time of year. The “FOILAGE”, as I heard someone say on the radio, is spectacular. One’s thoughts turn to cooking, comfort food, approaching holidays, wearing fleece and putting the flannel sheets on the bed. And, of course, reading and other indoor activities. I read a wonderful book recently, ON THE MOVE, Dr. Oliver Sacks’ memoir. What an extraordinary man, multi-talented and in love with language. I had read some of his books about neurological patients and they were very good, but the memoir is even more fascinating, and I recommend it highly to you.
April is always full of poetry events. This year is no exception. I try to list all the ones involving Moon Pie Press poets on the website at http://www.moonpiepress.com. Here is a lovely poem about what sustains some of us through a long winter. It is by former Portland Poet Laureate Bruce Spang, whose latest book from Moon Pie Press is BOY AT THE SCREEN DOOR.
THE COLOR OF FAITH
Minus fifteen degrees, even the thermometer on the deck
recoils under its lid. Like a man with a Bible in a bombed out building,
I unearth a Johnny’s Selected Seed catalog
in the mail. Fields of Allstar Gourmet Lettuce,
mottled rows of purple and green, spread
beneath bare feet of a girl who slices one head
after another like the Queen in Wonderland.
I twist the space heater dial to high and flip
to Amaranthus, with its ropes of deep red,
fold the page; find a new Echinacea, Pallida
with long slender purple petals, fold it.
Colors splash on my lap, yellow tomatoes,
blue aster, pink poppies, and on page
sixty-eight, skins of peppers glistening
as brightly as the snow did this afternoon,
yet sliced open like hearts. Look, there is
Joe Pye Weed that releases a vanilla scent.
Smell it. Write it. Fill in the order form.
I’ve always been a list maker and love lists – especially of books. It’s one of the best things about amazon (which has some negative aspects – a subject for a different blog entry) and sites like Goodreads. No matter how eclectic your subject, you can find reading lists put together by other people – some of them smart, some quirky, some plain crazy.
Today I’m going to list some interesting books I’ve read and enjoyed about writers, writing or books. I know the list is all over the place. I’d love to hear suggestions of your own in the comments. Here are twelve.
Death In Venice
Fear of Flying
The Golden Notebook
Angle of Repose
A Widow For One Year
The Shadow of the Wind
The Kite Runner
That Old Cape Magic
Everyone is tired and crabby after the past month or so of snow, bitter cold and more snow. Boston is a big mess that is making national news. Here in southern Maine we are not paralyzed to that extent, but driving is treacherous and we’re running out of places to put snow. Tonight into Sunday another 12-15″ is predicted, with 50mph+ winds. I went to my town library yesterday and stocked up for the long weekend with books and a movie.
Here is a photo of my late cousin Truman Capote with a cat – I have a collection of photos of writers with their pets and will keep throwing them in randomly. Capote has been on my mind since the hoopla over the pending release of his friend Harper Lee’s sequel to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I can’t help but wonder what Capote would think of all this, or of the book itself. His original last name was Persons; my father’s cousin Archie was his father. Truman’s mother later married Mr. Capote and changed the boy’s name. I never met him, but am a long time admirer of his writing.
Here is a short winter poem by Thomas Campion (1576-1620)
Now the winter nights enlarge
The numbers of their hours
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
And cups overflow with wine;
Let well turned words amaze
With harmony divine.
Here is the late writer Peter Matthiessen with a cat. And a feline doing research.
After an easy December with little snow, New Englanders were hit with three big snowstorms in a row at the end of January. And 6-10 more inches are predicted for tomorrow, at least in southern Maine. I’m still digging out and neatening up the walkways. Thank goodness for the library. I recently read two notably good books: THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich and THE ASSASSINATION OF MARGARET THATCHER, a collection of stories by Hilary Mantel. Erdrich’s novels are always rewarding, rich with native American wisdom, family history and humor. I really liked Mantel’s twisted, often dark stories. I want to read her WOLF HALL and sequels.
Consolations during this frigid, trying time of year include a fireplace, comfort food like mashed potatoes, stew and homemade bread, email with faraway friends, my cats and dog, “Downton Abbey” and other good things on TV, but most of all, books. I hope you have a big pile of them at your house.
In 2014 we lost a number of writers: poets Mark Strand, Galway Kinnell, Claudia Emerson and Carolyn Kizer, and also Ruth Rendell, Mike Nichols, Peter Matthiessen, Kent Haruf, Bel Kaufman, Nadine Gordimer, Thomas Berger and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I am a big fan of Kinnell’s heartfelt poetry. Love Ruth Rendell’s work, and am glad she wrote so many books. Thomas Berger was a one of a kind novelist and I always liked his mordant humor. And Marquez and Gordimer illuminated the world for me in different ways.
Here is a January poem by Andrew Periale of New Hampshire, from a beautiful 2015 calendar called A Woodland Sketchbook, with illustrations by his wife Bonnie.
your metallic scold
on a cold morning.
Ticks me off–
I feel an outsider
in my own woods!
But how can I stay angry
at that blue, that bit of sky–
little thief! You are that student–
chatty, voice that cuts glass.
How I miss you when
the hawk’s successful,
trees suddenly silent.
I read 108 books in 2014. I’m not bragging – this is fewer than in many years. Fifteen of my favorite fiction books are listed below. As you can tell, my reading tastes are rather eclectic. Note that three writers on this list live in Maine: Monica Wood, Bill Roorbach and Bruce Spang. I write short reviews for some books on Goodreads. We are inundated with “best of” lists on the Internet and in print, but I find them useful. As always, I welcome your comments. May we all have time to read in 2015.
Alice Adams, The Last Lovely City (stories)
John O’Hara, Appointment in Samarra
Jennifer Dubois, Cartwheel
Richard Russo, Elsewhere
Max Berry, Lexicon
Monica Wood, When We Were the Kennedys
Kate Atkinson, Started Early, Took My Dog
Lee Smith, Guests On Earth
Susan Choi, The Foreign Student
Bruce Spang, The Deception of the Thrush
Bill Roorbach, Life Among Giants
Bill Roorbach, Summers with Juliet
Joseph O’Neill, The Dog
Stuart O’Nan, Songs for the Missing
James Lee Burke, The Wayfaring Stranger